Betsy DeVos is our education secretary. Here's what to do next.

On Feb. 7, 2017, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as America's next education secretary.

Resistance to her nomination was of historic proportions. Last week, two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — broke ranks and announced they would oppose DeVos, leaving the GOP-controlled Senate at a 50-50 stalemate (all 48 Democrats opposed her nomination). Vice President Mike Pence cast the tiebreaking vote.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.


If you attended or have kids in public schools, DeVos' nomination may be a tough pill to swallow. DeVos, a Michigan billionaire born into wealth, has never attended or worked in a public school — although her family has given the Republican Party about $200 million over the years. She's also been a big proponent of school choice — a controversial free-market education method that allows public funds to be siphoned off to private, parochial, and even for-profit schools. It's a strategy many education advocates have criticized, claiming it uses already scarce public school funds to benefit mostly upper-middle class and wealthy families, leaving the most vulnerable students and schools in even worse shape.

Admittedly, it was not a good day for many public school advocates. But now more than ever, American kids and schools need our help.

Here are 20 ways you can turn your anxiety over the future of public education into real action:

1. First and foremost, don't feel hopeless.

Let your frustrations fuel your advocacy. Among President Trump's controversial cabinet appointments, DeVos' agenda may be the least popular among Americans. The resistance to her plans is alive and well.

2. Help fund a project that will make a difference on Donors Choose.

The platform gives teachers a place to crowd-fund classroom projects, allowing individuals (that's you!) to help students, whether it be giving art supplies to students in California or providing iPads to kids in Brooklyn to boost their linguistic and social skills.

Photo via iStock.

3. If you can, get involved in the National Education Association.

The focus of NEA — the largest professional employee organization in the country — is to make public education high-quality and accessible to every student. There are many ways for prospective, current, and former public education professionals to join the cause.

4. Come midterm elections, don't forget which senators voted for DeVos — many of whom received campaign donations from her family:

Steve Daines (Montana), John Thune (South Dakota), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Richard Burr (North Carolina), Jeff Sessions (Alabama), Roger Wicker (Mississippi), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Bob Corker (Tennessee), Michael Enzi (Wyoming), John Barrasso (Wyoming), Dean Heller (Nevada), Rob Portman (Ohio), Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), John McCain (Arizona), Richard Shelby (Alabama), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Cory Gardner (Colorado), Rand Paul (Kentucky), Deb Fischer (Nebraska), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), James Inhofe (Oklahoma), Jim Risch (Idaho), James Lankford (Oklahoma), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Patrick Toomey (Pennsylvania), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Michael Rounds (South Dakota), Thad Cochran (Mississippi), Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), Michael Crapo (Idaho), John Hoeven (North Dakota), Pat Roberts (Kansas), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Kennedy (Louisiana), Thom Tillis (North Carolina), Todd Young (Indiana), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Tim Scott (South Carolina), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), Marco Rubio (Florida), David Perdue (Georgia), Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Charles Grassley (Iowa), John Cornyn (Texas), John Boozman (Arkansas), and Lamar Alexander (Tennessee).

5. Think local.

You know your own community best. What local or regional organizations do the crucial work unique to the problems facing the public schools in your city? Reach out and ask them how you can get involved.

6. Donate to No Kid Hungry.

The nonprofit helps feed American schoolchildren so they can stay full and focused in the classroom. One $10 gift can provide up to 100 meals to a kid who could use it.

7. Support after-school arts programs.

There's probably at least one group in your area helping teach art to kids outside the classroom — an opportunity that could help them in many ways for years to come. In Pittsburgh, for instance, free after-school art classes at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Youth & Arts teach any kids in the Pittsburgh public school system skills in ceramics, design, photography, and more.

8. Share this video of Sen. Al Franken questioning DeVos' support of anti-LGBTQ causes — and hold her accountable to do better.

Let the record show: Dollars from the DeVos family have gone toward horribly anti-LGBTQ initiatives, including gay (to straight) conversion therapy — a practice that's  been deemed harmful by experts and is essentially a form of child abuse.

Despite her record, DeVos said during her Senate hearing that she never believed in gay conversion therapy and that she "fully embraces equality" for all students. Let's hold her accountable to that.

Earlier this evening, I questioned Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, and was deeply troubled by the fact that she seemed unfamiliar with some of the most basic issues in education today. Ms. DeVos repeatedly refused to answer questions, let alone offer specifics. That was not what the American people needed to hear. They deserved to see her demonstrate that she understands and can successfully address the profoundly difficult challenges ordinary families face every day when it comes to education: things like making sure their kids are prepared for the 21st century economy, addressing student loan debt, and ensuring kids feel safe in school.

Posted by U.S. Senator Al Franken on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

9. Support your local libraries.

Libraries are great resources for our kids to learn outside the classroom (and they have so much more to offer than books). Get your library card, visit frequently, volunteer, and spread the word.

Speaking of libraries...

10. Create a Little Free Library in your own neighborhood.

Build a little library in your yard, stock it with some books, and let your neighbors enjoy. Ideally, it'll turn into a take-a-book, give-a-book situation.

Learn more about how to pull it off.

11. Fight for more affordable and free higher education at the ballot box.

Despite what you may think of DeVos' appointment, Americans increasingly support using public funds to ensure college is free or affordable to more students. Stanford University, for example, was cheered for guaranteeing students whose parents have a combined income of less than $125,000 would have free tuition. And San Francisco has also made waves for making City College free for residents.

Many state and local governments are also trying to make higher ed more accessible to more students. New York state may make its public colleges and universities free to attend for the vast majority of students. Stay plugged in to similar state and local initiatives in your own area.

12. Support the "nonpublic" schools in your area.

Nonpublic schools are, in fact, public schools for kids with moderate to severe disabilities that prevent them from attending a more traditional public school. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ensures schools like them exist for any family that needs it.

Considering DeVos' nomination has disability advocates worried, the nonpublic schools in your community could probably use your support. Many host regular fundraisers and even need classroom volunteers.

13. Support the Kids in Need Foundation.

The nonprofit provides thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies to students in need every year, giving them the tools they need to succeed in class. (There are lots of groups doing similar work, by the way — if you do some digging, you may find a more local option.)

Photo via iStock.

14. Don't forget that Open eBooks is a thing, and it's spectacular.

Former President Obama's ConnectED initiative helped get more than $250 million worth of fantastic children's e-books online, available to any young person who wants to dive into a good read.

Because not every kid gets that chance.

15. Donate to First Book.

This nonprofit provides new books and other learning materials to kids and families in need. Since it was founded in 1992, the group has given away 160 million books and education resources.

16. Help tackle crime, nutrition, and education ... with veggies.

The nonprofit Gardopia Gardens operates community gardens at schools in Texas, helping make nutritional foods more accessible to kids. It not only teaches them about nutrition and gardening, it lowers crime rates in the neighborhoods where it operates. Similar programs are offered at schools around the country — if your local school doesn't already have one, why not look into what it would take to start one yourself?

17. Help make lunchtime a little more stress-free.

18. Support Publicolor.

Kids in New York City who work in the after-school program Publicolor paint beautiful works of art in schools in order to bring a splash of color to the spaces they share, build relationships, and learn valuable skills like commercial painting and positive work habits.

19. Stand up for immigrant students by supporting United We Dream.

The group had already been rallying educators to stand up to Trump's agenda. Now, with DeVos' nomination, its Educators Toolkit may be even more necessary.

20. Take matters into your own hands and run for a position on your local school board.

All politics are local, right? Run for school board in your community and make a difference.

Let's not sugarcoat it: DeVos' nomination is a major setback for our public schools. But we can't get complacent.

In ways big and small, our resistance to her agenda can make a better tomorrow for kids everywhere.

Photo via iStock.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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